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A week worth remembering for all who love freedom

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This week marks two widely ignored, yet important, anniversaries. One hundred years ago, on Aug. 25, 1920, Vladimir Lenin’s invasion of Europe was defeated as the Battle of Warsaw came to a decisive end, a victory known in Poland as “The Miracle of the Vistula.”

Eighty-one years ago, on Aug. 23, 1939, the Soviet Union began to succeed where it earlier had failed, with the signing of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. The agreement between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin set forth a division of the free nation of Poland between the two totalitarian regimes — a division made real after the outbreak of World War II only weeks later — and set in motion a chain of events that led to the descending of the Iron Curtain across Europe within a decade.

Far from being historical curiosities, these anniversaries deserve renewed attention. They are an enduring reminder that communism is fundamentally expansionist, seeking to swallow its neighbors and snuff out democracy, its mortal enemy. At a time when communism is growing in power and popularity, it would be wise for Americans and all freedom-loving people to remind ourselves about the mortal danger of the ideology of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

From the perspective of the 21st century, the crimes of the Soviet Union are sometimes easy to forget. This reflects, in part, the simple fact that 30 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. An entire generation and a half has been born without the menace of the Soviet Union hanging over the world. Yet the forgetfulness of communism’s actions also reflects an ongoing campaign to paint the Soviet Union as “one of the good guys,” especially as it pertains to World War II.

For Stalin and the Communist Party, the outbreak of World War II was a positive development — and a war it helped start. The marriage of international socialism and national socialism — the Soviets and the Nazis — gave Stalin an opportunity to begin the long-awaited communist conquest of Europe and destruction of Poland, where it engaged in widespread slaughter — such as the Katyn Massacre — in retribution for its failed invasion of 1920. Within months, the free nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined Poland as victims of communist expansionism. Thus did communism begin its spread throughout Eastern Europe and beyond, a goal that Stalin shared with his predecessor, Lenin.

While Hitler turned on Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union less than two years later, the outset of the war nonetheless showed that communism and Nazism were more similar than they’ve been made to seem. The fashionable description of one as “far left” and the other as “far right” masks the fact that both were profoundly tyrannical, both perpetrated mass murder, both despised democracy, and both were guilty of colluding to start the deadliest war in human history. Instead of being two ends of a continuum, communism and Nazism are totalitarian fellow travelers and are diametrically opposed to freedom, human rights and democracy.

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union pursued the same course it took at the start of the conflict. Yet, instead of merely conquering Poland and the Baltics, communism spread by force much further. It remained the dominant — and despotic — power for nearly half a century, until the 1989 collapse of communism in Europe. In all that time, the regime proved itself again to be every bit as evil as the Nazis, with millions dying at the hands of communist authorities.

Fast-forward to the present, and communism once again is on the rise. Communist China is becoming more oppressive at home — with the conquest of Hong Kong, enslavement of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and cultural assault on the people of Tibet — and aggressive abroad. Like the Soviet Union before it, the Chinese Communist Party is striving to spread its tyrannical ideology far beyond its borders. Within Russia, the former heart of the Soviet Union, nostalgia for the heady days of communism are on the rise, stoked largely by historical lies from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propagandists. And within the United States, a staggering 52 percent of millennials would rather live in a socialist or communist country.

A renewed historical memory is a key part of the antidote to these alarming trends. There is an urgent need to educate rising generations about the true nature of communism — its murders, gulags and poverty, both material and spiritual. So, too, is there a need to remember those who fought communism, and why. 

One hundred years ago this week, in the Battle of Warsaw, the Polish people drove off a Soviet army in a desperate bid to defend their freedom and independence. Their victory was a victory for civilization itself.

Yet, because of the Soviet-Nazi collaboration in starting WWII, and because of Soviet occupation of
Europe following the Yalta Conference, civilization required more courageous men and women. In the 1980s, on the anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began to protest Soviet tyranny, at one point forming a 400-mile human chain across all three countries. 

This year, on this momentous anniversary week, the people of Belarus are protesting their own government — the last Soviet-style dictatorship left in the region. In Europe, Canada and the United States, Aug. 23 is now known as “Black Ribbon Day,” a time to remember the victims of Nazi and communist tyranny. These stories must be remembered in order for the people of the free world to overcome the communist threat that is rising today.

Marion Smith (@smithmarion) is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Tags Communism Nazism Poland Russia Totalitarianism Vladimir Putin
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